Use Ladders Safely

Ladders are so useful and commonplace that they are often taken for granted.

That's a mistake, because falling off a ladder also is commonplace. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that each year more than 511,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics and other medical settings because they failed to use ladders safely. Most of the injuries are cuts, bruises and fractured bones. However, more than 300 people a year die from injuries related to ladders--that's almost one death per day.

Orthopedic surgeons who treat these injuries, and the American Ladder Institute know that many of these injuries and deaths could be avoided by following safety guidelines on the use of ladders.

Use the Correct Ladder

Use a ladder of proper length to reach the working height you need. Inside a house, that probably means a low stepladder; outside, you may need a taller stepladder, and for some projects, an even taller single or extension ladder. Use a ladder according to use and working load--the combined weight of the climber and the load being carried.*

IAA Industrial-extra heavy 375
IA Industrial-extra heavy 300
I Industrial-heavy 250
II Commercial-medium 225
III Household-light 200

Inspect the Ladder

Always inspect the ladder before you use it. Never use the ladder if it is damaged, broken or bent.

Don't make a temporary repair of broken or missing parts and then use the ladder. The temporary repair could fail while you're high off the ground. A ladder should be free from grease, oil, mud, snow and other slippery materials before using.

Moving the Ladder

You should carry a single or extension ladder parallel to the ground. Hold the side rail in the middle of the ladder so you can balance the load. You should get help moving a very long ladder.

You should always carry a stepladder in the closed position.

Setting Up the Ladder

Before you use a single, extension or stepladder outside the house, make sure it will not hit electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions when it is extended.

To ensure that the ladder is stable, place the feet of the ladder on firm, even ground.

The bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the feet of the ladder should be 4 feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend 3 feet higher than the roof. The upper and lower sections of an extension ladder should overlap to provide stability.

* American Academy of Orthopedic SurgeonsTM & American Ladder Institute